Bay Area Talks: Q & A Interview with Oakland’s Kainbigan

We had our first ever interview with an independent business owner last month. We specifically target socially-conscious and locally-minded entrepreneurs striving to make the Bay Area the best place to live in. If you have a business owner in mind that’s settled in the East Bay, let us know!

Shift Local’s Ideal Date Night contest begins 10/10/13 – learn more about two Oakland entrepreneurs who instantly understood Shift Local’s mission to raise awareness of the importance of buying local!

Q & A Interview with Oakland’s Kainbigan

Answers provided by Charleen Caabay

Why did you choose Oakland as the home of Kainbigan?

The culture, and it’s different compared to other cities, where it’s all about the community, no matter what gender or sexuality you are, it’s very diverse. Wherever I go, you go to a bar, or whatever, you just feel that it’s all inclusive, it’s everybody, it’s a community. This is a place I wanted to settle. When I got into catering, doing pop-ups, promoting women events. As you know, in our Filipino culture, we’re all about having a party, having good food. I would be at the club, people asked me “what do you want to do in producing this party?” So I responded, that I wanted to bring food. I started bringing rice bowls and serving little buffet stations in the corner of these pop-ups, and eventually I got known as the girl that cooks. 

I didn’t have a restaurant, I cooked out of the kitchen. You know, there’s not a large population of Filipinos out here. And when people knew I cooked and that I was Filipino, they always requested lumpia, pancit, adobo, you know, the basics. Some people haven’t even tried Filipino food, which I’m like “that’s a shame.” I mean, you drive 15 miles this way, you get Daly City, that way you get Vallejo.

Those places are saturated with Filipino Food.

No Worries Vegan Filipino Food Cuisine

No Worries Vegan Filipino Food Cuisine

Exactly! And they’re still growing. As diverse as Oakland is, I wanted to be one of those people to put it back on the map. No Worries was here, and they changed to a food truck. But no [other Filipino restaurant] was here, and Oakland is so community based, I felt I could gain enough support. My goal, is to be a woman in business, I didn’t have a lot of money growing up. I had to go the crowdfunding route through Indiegogo. I put up a request for a certain amount, but I didn’t get it. But I got enough to move forward, get this place opened.

With indiegogo, did you have someone help you develop a strategy?

Yeah, I have a partner, a silent partner almost. Basically we checked it out, and Indiegogo is self-explanatory. As with any strategy, you just got to put it out there. Word of mouth – if you have people that support you, they’ll put it out there.

From what I’ve heard with crowdfunding, about 70% of the funds you raise are from close family and friends. Was that the case with your crowdfunding campaign?

About, yeah. What’s good about it is that it reaches out to people out of state. I had folks from the East Coast support me, even folks I didn’t even know, that was just down for it and felt my cause.

What age did you realize you love cooking?

It goes as far back as my teenage years… since junior high, after school, my friends and I would kick it, No one really cooked, but the fridge at our homes were always stocked: meats, veggies. So my friends turned to me. We had a meal every time, a feast! It was cool, we just sat together, and ate, playing video games or whatever. In my 20’s that’s when I realized that this is something that will sustain myself. I was doing the IT route, went to DeVry. Move up that chain. There’s money in computers, I can sustain myself and cook all I want. But it changed, because in that industry there are a lot of layoffs – I was a contractor and got laid off every two years. Unemployment wasn’t a bad thing, and that gave me time to think of what I can do, to do what I love. To make people happy, to make me happy. Every time I got laid off, I wrote on my notebook the steps I would take – I still have that notebook. I would doodle, I have so many menus, and drew pictures of my floor plan.

When the food truck craze began, I really thought I was gonna get a food truck. That lead me to do research on renting a kitchen, trying to get all my resources together. I kept doing pop-ups for three months, and that allowed me to gather enough data. If I did this seven days a week, eight hours a day, I can make enough to sustain myself, five employees, the numbers fit. That’s where I’m at now, basically a pop-up times five.

Have you heard of The Kitchener in Oakland?

Kitchener Oakland frequently hosts tasty events!

Kitchener Oakland frequently hosts tasty events!

Yeah, I was so close to signing up with them a few week before I found this place. I talked to Sophia, and thought this is the kitchen I want. It was ideal, there’s an oven, stove, fridge, freezer. If I didn’t see this place, I would probably have signed up.

Could you provide how you got the name Kainbigan?

When I visited the Philippines, there was a franchise called “Kambingan” translates to goat friend. During this time, I already knew I wanted a restaurant. So I thought “kain” to eat and “kaibigan” friend. Among my group of friends, I’m known to be the one cookin. When there’s a party, I’m always the one behind the grill. My mom would get mad “Your friends this, you’re always taking care of your friends. (Who’s gonna take care of Charleen?!) But we’re all about just eating and having a good time, so I produced the tagline “Let’s eat my friends.” Everytime I was done cooking, I’d be like “Alright let’s eat!” It’s a warm feeling when I hear the name, it feels right, I feel really happy about it.

What does local mean to you?

Local means grassroots, naturally made – indulgently created. It’s used from resources obtainable in your local area.

With the trend of organic, locally-sourced, what’s your take?

I think it’s great! Now that it’s more out there, it’s important that it’s obtainable, it’s our livelihood.

Do you make an effort to source locally?

For vegetables, I try to do it here in Oakland. I’m still looking for specific vendors, it’s only my second week. Right now, my goal is to go to the Farmer’s Market. Mainly, I’m looking for the right vendors to bring it to my restaurant.

In general, what inspires you?

Just to see folks happy from what I do. Like when someone get’s an ice-cream cone. When I serve my food and it put’s a smile in their face, it makes me happy. It pushes me to keep doing what I do.

Three adjectives that define Kainbigan

  1. Tasty
  2. Delicious
  3. Warm – When people eat my food, it makes them rub their belly 🙂
  4. (Aubrey) Comforting

When people eat here they get itis: The general feeling of lethargy and well-being experienced after eating a satisfying meal. 

Top three dishes

  1. Most sold – Variations of the garlic noodles
  2. Charleen’s favorite – Bistek fried rice
  3. Charleen’s favorite to cook – I love to BBQ

One of the biggest pitfalls of Filipino cuisine is how long it takes to prepare a dish. What have you done to counter this?

Some people are like, “how come you don’t cook this, or you don’t cook that?” I’ve very particular with my food, I want to teach the community the basics, and at the same time, have it as fresh as possible. For stews, I’ve learned to not overcook it, then place it in the oven so that it’s perfect all day.  I do have made-to-order items here, like pancit. I’ve gotten a lot of compliments with how fresh it is. The bigger problem I see is that Filipino food gets misinterpreted – it’s not presented well. People have pre-judgement of how it looks.

I want to have revolving specials. I want to make simple basic food, and then incorporate other items. People in my comment cards are like I want kare kare or sinigang, I definitely want all of that, but I want the community to learn [the basics] first.

Regarding The Filipino Food Movement

A group just started here in the Bay Area, and they asked me to contribute to it. It’s important, as second generation Filipinos, we have to wonder who will continue cooking traditional Filipino food after our generation? That’s what worries me.

Three Tips for Restaurateurs

  1. Get out there and let people taste your food.
  2. Don’t be scared, even with items you’re unsure of, put it out there. You need the feedback.
  3. Connect with people, build your network, your foundation.

I’m always looking out for mentors. I’m so grateful of people who have their own businesses and still give me tips. I’d put a shout out to Rizza of Underdog. She owns an organic sausage joint, she’s one of my homies, always giving me tips every day. There’s Tina Tamale, owner of La Borinquena. I used to manage food vendors when I threw events, and she was one of them. The fact both are women, that are getting their hustle on for what they love. I’m a hardcore advocate for [women entreprenurs], there’s not enough of it. I feel that there isn’t support for that.

Closing comments

Opening this shop, I hope to inspire people. To really push, that if people want something, they can get it. There’s always resources. My doors are open, if anybody needs anything, if they want to go that route. I’ll put it out there, no fee, no charge. I’ll give what I can offer. I know how it was, if you check my Facebook, to see how far back I went – I sold food on the streets just to get it out there.

Email us at if you want to recommend another East Bay entrepreneur for our next interview!


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